Is online counselling second best?

Updated: Mar 29

Traditionally, counselling has always taken place face-to-face (f2f), and so it seems the default way that counsellors work.

Through my experience of training and practising as a counsellor in a small city with over four hundred f2f counsellors, I feel immersed in the f2f counselling world and in a community of counsellors in which online counselling is thought of as second best or, worse still, useless. Comments such as those cited by Jones & Stokes are common, with counsellors questioning if technology is safe/reliable and the belief that 'a real relationship cannot be developed solely through text' (Jones & Stokes, 2009, p7).

In challenging the online sceptics I decided in 2017 to experience online counselling at first hand as a client. I am pleased to report that this experience not only helped fade any doubts, but also strengthened my passion for wanting to practise online, and was the catalyst for my decision to complete an advanced course to train to work as a professional online counsellor with the Academy for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

I now strongly agree with Rhodes, 2017, that counselling online is 'not a watered down version of f2f' and, instead, is a 'new expression' of counselling. I also agree with Weitz’ (2013, pXXV) assertion that 'change is a necessary part of evolution' and that online therapy is an opportunity to evolve as a therapist. It is indeed a curious paradox that many counsellors resist change and this new way of working (Weitz, 2013).

I currently work as an out LGBTQ counsellor where the majority of my clients choose to work with me because they want a counsellor who has professional and lived experience of gender and sexual diversity.

I am therefore very aware of the shame that can encompass identities that don’t fit the heteronormative and cisnormative society we live in. This, I feel, can stop some people feeling able to access counselling. For example, a client’s voice may not match society’s expectations of how they present, and fear of judgement can act as an additional barrier to accessing traditional talking therapy.

By offering the opportunity to access therapy via email or instant message, where clients don’t need to speak or be seen, these barriers can therefore be broken down and enable people who might never have felt able to have therapy f2f to be reached.

There is also the advantage of being able to offer counselling to people in all parts of the country, as not all clients have the advantage of living in or near a city where they access to an LGBTQ-identified counsellor and a choice of several LGBTQ counsellors is much easier.